Mexico’s plan to face Trump

These are the bridges between the two countries today. And Trump’s saber-rattling is a grave threat to regional security, peace, and commerce.

In Mexico, Trump’s hostility has led to a rise in anti-American nationalism. After months of inconsistent and hesitant reactions to his Northern counterpart’s, Enrique Pena Nieto has the lowest approval rating ever recorded by a Mexican President.

Mexico’s government ran out of patience after a February 22-23 US State Visit to Mexico veered from awkward to openly hostile. Luis Videgaray is Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs. He told the Los Angeles Times in a threatening manner that the Trump Administration’s next moves will determine how Mexico and the US will coexist in the future.

A US state trip that went from awkward to hostile. Carlos Barria/Reuters

Trump’s NAFTA Myths

Formerly, the North American Free Trade Agreement was the symbol of friendly relations between Mexico & the US.

In July 2015, the US Government praised Mexico for being a “critically-important” partner to the well-being of America. Fourteen years earlier, George W Bush had acknowledged the US’s “nothing more important relationship” in the world than its relationship with Mexico.

The positive feelings of previous consecutive American administrations towards Mexico are a reflection of their knowledge that NAFTA’s achievements – economists agreeing that it has provided greater benefits to the US economy than harm — required sacrifices from both sides of border.

Not all the jobs lost were in the Rust Belt, the heartland of the US’s declining industrial industry. NAFTA has also imposed huge costs on the Mexican agricultural sector, eliminating 1.3 million agriculture jobs. Poor farmers, forced to compete at local markets with heavily subsidized corn and other staples from the US, just couldn’t make it work.

Trump’s recent argument in an address to Congress that the US has “lost more than one-fourth” of its manufacturing jobs to Mexico notwithstanding, an accompanying shift towards the service economy means the drop in manufacturing has had only a modest overall effect on the US job market. In fact, automation has had a bigger impact.

Service gigs are often low-paying and unstable, but the challenges of the US working class go deeper than NAFTA. Across the globe, a new social class of precarious workers – the precariat – has emerged as a result of the entrenchment of neoliberal capitalism all over the world. In Mexico, for example, many of those NAFTA-derived manufacturing jobs pay the daily minimum wage of 80 pesos – around US$4.00.

Rather than concern himself about labor standards, the US president has railed against the US goods trade deficit with Mexico, which amounted to US$58 billion in 2015. He ignores that nearly 2 million US jobs also now depend on exports to Mexico, and that the US has grown US$127 billion richer each year because of extra NAFTA trade.

The gringo ogre is back with a vengeance.

In his address to Congress, Trump continued his hardline rhetoric on NAFTA, Mexico and Mexicans. Jim Bourg/Reuters

The beacon of hostility

It was immigration that finally pushed Mexico’s government over the edge.

Those hardline executive orders on border security and immigration enforcement? Not just empty threats: roughly half of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US are Mexican, and Trump wants them out. Bids for contracts to build the US-Mexico border wall are scheduled to open on March 6.

Deportation priorities have also been drastically expanded. John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security, has issued instructions to target undocumented immigrants who’ve been in the US for up to two years for “expedited removal” without court authorization.

Immigrants can now be deported for virtually any misstep, from using false documents to posing a (subjective) “risk to public safety or national security”. Paying smugglers to bring your children across the border has become a prosecutable offence, subjecting entire families to deportation.

These rules will spur violations of civil liberties, and they’re already causing human suffering across Mexico and the US. Asylum-seekers are stuck in legal limbo at the border. Immigrants hide in fear. Families have been torn apart.

In the US, some 38% of US-born Latinos, 34% of Latino immigrants with US citizenship, and 49% of Latino immigrants who are lawful permanent residents now have serious concerns about whether they can still call the US “home”.

Relatives separated by immigration hug at an open gate on the fence along the Mexico-US border on Universal Children’s Day. Jorge Duenes/Reuters

Trump’s draconian immigration policies derive from a profoundly inaccurate assessment of the situation in the US.

Every day, one million individuals legally cross the border in a peaceful manner.

An estimated 5% of America’s civilian workforce is undocumented. And no wall will stop Mexican job-seekers as long as American employers – like Andrew Puzder, Trump’s first nominee to lead the Labour Department, who admitted to employing an undocumented house cleaner – continue incorporating them. On the other hand, about one million Mexican immigrants have already freely returned home between 2009 and 2014, partly because of Mexico’s economic growth.

A million people cross the border legally every day. Toksave/WikimediaCC BY-SA

Trump has also erroneously and irresponsibly stigmatized immigrants as criminals who “prey” on “very innocent” American citizens. Several studies, over many years, have established that immigrants and crime are not connected.

But the Trump administration, with its alternative facts, asserts that there’s been a “surge of immigration at the southern border” that’s causing “significant national security vulnerability.”” Secretary Kelly is even insisting that the US can return all people caught crossing the US-Mexico border illegally to Mexico, even if they’re not Mexican.

Standing up to the bully

Mexico reacted with anger to the new rules, which were issued hours before Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Mexico City for their first official visit.

Luis Videgaray responded by indicating that “the Mexican people do not have to accept measures that one government wants to unilaterally impose on another.” Kelly, trying to calm the row, assured the Mexican government that there would be “no mass deportations” and “no use of military force in immigration.”

But before the visit was over, Trump had already contradicted his DHS secretary by describing the US crackdown as a “military operation” that’s getting “the bad dudes out at a rate that nobody has ever seen before.”

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